Why Dick Butkus and Gale Sayers still matter; linked again in new NFL Network film, book

My latest Chicago Tribune column is on Bears greats Dick Butkus and Gale Sayers, and how the images of their greatness still are vivid after all these years.

You also can access the column via my Twitter feed at @Sherman_Report.

From the column:


With yet another season slipping away, Bears fans probably could use a dose of Dick Butkus and Gale Sayers.

It is available in multiple forms. At 9 p.m. Friday, the NFL Network’s “A Football Life” series examines the two Hall of Famers whose careers became intertwined when the Bears selected them third and fourth overall in the first round of the 1965 draft.

Also, a new book, “Football: Great Writing about the National Sport,” edited by former Sun-Times columnist John Schulian, features classic, in-depth profiles of Butkus and Sayers from when they still were in the process of making their highlight reels.

The film and book underscore how enduring images of the greatness of Butkus and Sayers transcended their relatively short careers.

“With Sayers, it’s hard to capture in words his grace and elegance,” Schulian said. “Butkus was iconic. He was the classic middle linebacker who dreamed of tackling the quarterback and seeing his head roll down the field. It doesn’t get more classic than that.”

Indeed, David Swain and Dave Douglas, the documentary’s producers, said they had “an embarrassment of riches” when it came to selecting footage from their careers. Decades later, video of Sayers’ dazzling runs and the intimidating ferocity of Butkus are truly awe-inspiring whether seen for the first time or the 100th time.

Yet what comes out in both platforms are the human sides of the men. In the book, Arthur Kretchmer spent weeks hanging with Butkus for his 1971 piece that ran in Playboy. It included a passage about his mother.

“When you saw him play, you didn’t think he even had a mother,” Schulian said.


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